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Plant Detective, The

Montana Public Radio

Each week Flora Delaterre a.k.a. The Plant Detective investigates a new medicinal plant somewhere around the globe--and it could be in your backyard. Beth Judy writes and voices this minute-and-a-half program in consult with Bastyr University, Tai Sophia Institute, and the Vermont School of Integrative Herbalism. Produced by MTPR. The Plant Detective podcast



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Plant Detective, The
Dec 27, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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Modern interest in mistletoe as a possible treatment for cancer began in the 1920s. For centuries, it had been used as something of a cure-all, but when mistletoe's immunostimulant properties were confirmed, the Druids' reverence for the healing power of this parasite got some scientific validation. Since then, lots of studies have been done in Germany, where many cancer patients augment conventional treatment with mistletoe extracts. In the lab, it kills certain cancer cells, while boosting the
Plant Detective, The
Dec 20, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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Mistletoe, a parasitic plant that grows on a wide range of host trees, shows up on every continent but Antarctica - and on each continent, it's been used in folk medicine. From ancient Greece into twentieth-century America, it was prescribed for epilepsy. Over the centuries, healers have used mistletoe to treat arthritis, menstrual problems, miscarriage (through controlling bleeding), hypertension, and pain - and that's just the short list. It's prescribed frequently in Europe. But don't try any
Plant Detective, The
Dec 13, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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Passionflower is a beautiful climbing vine native to the Americas whose corona reminded people of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his crucifixion. It's a sedative, milder than valerian or kava - often, you'll find it used in combination with other calming herbs like lemon balm. Passionflower calms the nervous system, reduces anxiety, and soothes insomnia and muscle spasms. Scientists think it increases levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. Don't use passionflower if you
Plant Detective, The
Dec 6, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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The Efik people of the region that is now Nigeria used to force people accused of crimes to suffer a trial by ordeal: they'd be fed calabar beans, a known poison. If the accused died, they were judged guilty. If they lived, they were "proven" innocent. There's some pharmaceutical basis to this. It turns out that the poison of the calabar bean is absorbed in the mouth, where a guilty person might try to hold the beans, to avoid swallowing. For the guileless who swallowed them whole,...
Plant Detective, The
Nov 29, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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You might have brushed by it in the forest, where this hairy-looking symbiosis between algea and fungi perches on tree limbs. The look of the lichen usnea explains its nicknames: "old man's beard," "tree's dandruff," "women's long hair," and "beard lichen." For centuries, it's been considered a handy medicinal. People grab some to dress wounds, or take it internally for infections or oral inflammation. But in the 1990s, when manufacturers of weight-loss...
Plant Detective, The
Nov 22, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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It's not an old wive's tale: cranberry helps prevent and treat urinary tract infections. And it's not just the acidity: a compound in cranberries and blueberries keeps bacteria from sticking to bladder and urinary tract walls. Cranberries are high in several kinds of antioxidants, including proanthocyanidins, which give the ripe berries their vivid red color. In the 1672 book New England Rarities Discovered , author John Josselyn described cranberries: "Sauce for the Pilgrims, cranberry or
Plant Detective, The
Nov 15, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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Among the artifacts discovered in the tomb of Egypt's Tutankhamen - objects meant to ease the boy king into the afterlife - were 3,000-year-old bulbs of garlic. Giving as well as receiving, Tut supplied daily rations of garlic to his pyramid-building slaves, for endurance and health. Garlic is a fabulous heart helper: its blood-thinning and anti-clotting abilities may slow down atherosclerosis and lower blood pressure. Raw or cooked garlic strengthens the immune system; The Iowa Women's Health
Plant Detective, The
Nov 8, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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Ever since nomadic tribes helped spread wild garlic from Central Asia to far-flung parts of the globe, garlic has helped humans fight microbes. Louis Pasteur recognized its antimicrobial power, as did doctors in WWI and WWII battlefield hospitals, where injured soldiers were given garlic to prevent infection and gangrene. Today's warnings of a "post-antibiotic" future mean garlic's power may turn out to be handy as drug-resistant bacteria become widespread. ( Podcast : " The...
Plant Detective, The
Nov 1, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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In 1905, author Harriet Keeler wrote about the inner bark of the slippery elm tree: “It is thick, fragrant, mucilaginous, demulcent, and nutritious. The water in which the bark has been soaked is a grateful drink for one suffering from affections of the throat and lungs.” Nutritious and medicinal, slippery elm is native to the eastern half of North America. At Valley Forge, George Washington's hungry troops survived on it for weeks; they also dressed wounds with it. Slippery elm is a gentle...
Plant Detective, The
Oct 25, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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Medicinal use of datura - also known as moonflower - is so ancient, no one is sure where the plant originated. Two important nervous system depressor drugs, atropine and scopolamine, are derived from it. Oracles in the Americas and Greece used it for divinations. Witches in medieval Europe applied it to their skin in ointments. And when modern-day researchers experimented (a risky proposition; one of the researchers died) with those old witches' recipes, they reported intense dreams of flying.
Plant Detective, The
Oct 18, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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The alkaloid atropine occurs naturally in plants like deadly nightshade, datura, and henbane. It can keep your heart rate steady after a heart attack, dilate your eyes - think belladonna - or dry up secretions during surgery. Soldiers carry atropine injectors because it's an antidote to nerve gas. But in high doses, it's hallucinogenic and poisonous. Remember the three fates of Greek mythology? One of them, Atropos, determined the mechanism of death for mortals. Atropine is named for her. (
Plant Detective, The
Oct 11, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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The powerful anti-inflammatory action of harpagoside, a compound in the roots of devil's claw, relieves the pain of osteoarthritis, and many herbalists recommend it for digestive problems. The San of the Kalahari have used it medicinally for centuries. But because devil's claw is gathered wild from the deserts of Southern Africa, where the tubers are an important source of income , there is pressure on the population. In some regions, the current rate of harvest might not be sustainable. Good
Plant Detective, The
Oct 4, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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This feathery plant from the deserts of Afghanistan and the mountains of Iran stinks - until you cook it, that is, when its pleasant flavor and active antiflatulent and digestive properties emerge. You can find it in Worcestershire sauce and throughout South Indian cuisine as a flavor enhancer and digestive aid. Devil's Dung is also antimicrobial. ( Podcast : " The Plant Detective ") Antiflatulent, helps digestion.
Plant Detective, The
Sep 27, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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The gigantic leaves of devil's club barely hide its sharp thorns - if you're ever sliding down a mountain slope, this is not a plant to grab. But inside the roots' bark lies medicine for all sorts of evils: native coastal North Americans treated as many as 34 types of ailments with it. From its antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties to its use for fish hooks, lures, and charcoal, or its role in purification and attainment of supernatural powers, devil's club has been a staple for
Plant Detective, The
Sep 20, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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The causes of migraine aren't well understood. Neither is the mechanism behind feverfew's proven ability to stop or prevent a migraine headache. Feverfew supplements used in clinical studies to treat migraine contain a standardized dose of 0.2 to 0.35% parthenolide, so if you research this herb, pay attention to dosage details. Pregnant women and children under the age of two shouldn't use it, and people with allergies to ragweed, chamomile and yarrow are sometimes allergic to feverfew. (
Plant Detective, The
Sep 13, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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Goldenseal ( Hydrastis canadensis) grows in eastern North America, where it's now threatened in the wild. An alkaloid in goldenseal, berberine, shows powerful antimicrobial effects against a wide range of bacteria, yeasts, and parasites. Herbalists prescribed goldenseal to stimulate the immune system, fight infection, and treat diarrhea. (Podcast: The Plant Detective , 9/13/14)
Plant Detective, The
Sep 6, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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There's a persistent urban legend concerning the herb, goldenseal: take it before a urine test and you'll get false-negative results for a variety of recreational drugs. Disappointingly for those who try, goldenseal won't mask drug residues in the blood. The idea came from Stringtown on the Pike, a novel published in 1900 by plant pharmacist John Uri Lloyd. In the book, goldenseal causes a false-positive result for strychnine poisoning. (Podcast: The Plant Detective , 9/6/14)
Plant Detective, The
Aug 30, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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In the 1930s, scientists trying to synthesize estrogen and progesterone for therapeutic uses - and possibly to create a new kind of contraceptive - faced an obstacle: they needed an abundant, cheap source of the hormones for mass production. Chemist Russell Marker discovered a way to extract progesterone from plants, and began searching for one that could yield enough of the hormone. After searching for a decade, he found it: the wild Mexican yam. (Podcast: The Plant Detective , 8/30/14)
Plant Detective, The
Aug 23, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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Indigenous Australians use the twigs and leaves of the melaleuca (tea tree) medicinally, and science has confirmed the tree's antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. Tea tree oil is used topically to treat a range of skin infections, cuts, burns, insect bites and stings. A 2012 review by the National Institutes of Health found that "a 5% tea tree oil gel appears to be as effective as 5% benzoyl peroxide" for treating mild to moderate acne. (Podcast: The Plant Detective ,...
Plant Detective, The
Aug 16, 2014 Beth Anne Austein
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In southern China, where Camptotheca acuminata is native, people call these big-leafed trees "Happy Trees." Chinese herbalists have been prescribing medicine from the leaves for centuries to treat various ailments, including leukemia. In the 1950s, National Cancer Institute researchers in the U.S. isolated the alkaloid camptothecin from the leaves, and today, several drugs derived from camptothecin help treat ovarian and colon cancer. (Podcast: The Plant Detective , 8/16/14)